Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 12/14/2018
Format: 12/14/2018
John Doe By His Next Friend Jane Doe, Et Al. v. Brentwood Academy Inc., Et Al.
M2018-02059-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson

This Tenn. R. App. P. 9 application for permission to appeal concerns whether portions of a trial court order and a transcript, both of which reference Plaintiff Jane Doe’s medical history, should be placed under seal. Pursuant to an October 2, 2018 order of remand from this court in Appeal No. M2018-01611-COA-R10-CV1, the trial court determined that portions of the documents should be redacted but that certain portions of the transcript and order which include references to Jane Doe’s medical history should not be placed under seal. The trial court subsequently granted Jane Doe and John Doe permission to appeal under Tenn. R. App. P. 9. We concur with the trial court that this is an appropriate case for an interlocutory appeal. Furthermore, because the application and answer fully set forth the parties’ positions and the material facts, we dispense with further briefing and oral argument and proceed to the merits of the appeal in order to save the parties additional time and expense.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 12/14/18
In Re Billy F.
E2018-01639-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brad Lewis Davidson

Father appeals the trial court’s finding that termination of his parental rights to his son is in the child’s best interest. Because we conclude that clear and convincing evidence supports both the grounds for termination found by the trial court and the trial court’s best interest finding, we affirm.

Cocke County Court of Appeals 12/14/18
In Re: Mason C. Et Al.
E2018-01378-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry M. Warner

This is a termination of parental rights case involving the parental rights of Allison T. (“Mother”) to the children, Mason C. and Nathan C. (“the Children”), and the parental rights of Jeffrey M. (“Father”) to Nathan C. On November 14, 2016, the maternal grandparents, Patricia T. and Robert T. (“Grandparents”), filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother and Father to their respective Children. Following a bench trial, the trial court terminated Mother’s parental rights to the Children and Father’s parental rights to Nathan upon its determination that the parents had abandoned the Children by willfully failing to support them and that termination of their parental rights was in the best interest of the Children. Because the trial court failed to enter sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand for entry of sufficient findings of facts and conclusions of law in compliance with Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-1-113(k) (2017).

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 12/14/18
Travis Daniel Freeman v. Wendy Y. Freeman
E2017-02110-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Casey Mark Stokes

This appeal concerns the proper method of invoking a trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction in a proceeding to modify a permanent parenting plan. About one year after the parties’ divorce, Travis Freeman (father) filed a petition to modify the court-ordered custody arrangement and attached a proposed permanent parenting plan pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-405(a) (2017). Wendy Freeman (mother) opposed the requested modification. The trial court subsequently entered two orders gradually expanding father’s co-parenting time. Later, father filed another motion seeking greater expansion of his co-parenting time and/or designation as the primary residential parent. Father did not attach a new proposed parenting plan to this motion. Ultimately, the trial court ordered a new permanent parenting plan that retained mother as the primary residential parent but granted father additional co-parenting time. Mother appeals. She argues that father did not properly invoke the trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction because father did not attach a new proposed parenting plan to his most recent motion to modify the custody arrangement. We agree with mother that father was statutorily required to submit a new proposed parenting plan pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-405(a); nevertheless, we hold that father’s petition to modify the parenting plan was sufficient to invoke the trial court’s jurisdiction. Accordingly, we affirm

Meigs County Court of Appeals 12/14/18
Jermaine Reese v. The Estate of Stanley Cutshaw, Et Al. - concurring
E2017-01923-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

I concur in the majority’s discussion and decision regarding the inapplicability of the doctrine of exoneration. I am also of the opinion that if the statute of limitations had been timely raised as an affirmative defense, it would have barred Wife’s cause of action. However, I believe that our Fryer decision and Rules 8.03 and 12.08 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, mandate the conclusion that the trial court erred in ambushing Wife by applying an affirmative defense that was never pled nor tried. To the extent that the majority opinion could be read as holding that the trial court’s error was harmless because the statute of limitations had run, I disagree with that reasoning, because I believe it is circular in nature. The conclusion that the error was harmless can, however be supported by other reasoning of the majority. For example, I agree with the majority that the error was harmless, but I would support this conclusion simply on the trial court’s determination that the release executed by the parties was valid and enforceable and supports the conclusion that the property securing the debt should be deeded back to Wife. I write separately to emphasize my view that Fryer was correctly decided, that it is squarely on point and applicable to this case, and that this opinion should not be read as representing an exception to the general principle stated therein, namely that a trial court commits reversible error by sua sponte applying a statute of limitations defense at the end of trial that was never pled, raised by the parties, or tried by implied consent.

Greene County Court of Appeals 12/14/18
Jermaine Reese v. The Estate of Stanley Cutshaw, Et Al.
E2017-01923-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

This appeal concerns a debt owed to the plaintiff by her deceased husband. The trial court awarded the plaintiff certain secured real property that she argues does not provide her the full value of her claim against the decedent. We affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 12/14/18
In Re Estate of Bernice Hill
W2017-02131-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Karen D. Webster

A claim was filed against an estate by the former employer of the decedent. The clerk of court did not send notice to the representative of the estate as required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 30-2-313(a). The estate did not file an exception to the claim until after the time for filing exceptions had run. The trial court accordingly ruled that the exception was time barred. The estate appeals. We reverse the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/14/18
Nedra B. Drayton v. Jacquelyn B. Scruggs
W2017-00760-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Valerie L. Smith

This appeal arises from an Order of Protection initially issued in the General Sessions Court for Shelby County, Tennessee based on the plaintiff’s allegation that the defendant, her mother, assaulted her “by hitting her with her car.” In the appeal to the Circuit Court, that court ordered that all provisions in the order of protection in the General Sessions Court remain in effect until further order of the Circuit Court. Following numerous filings and motions, one of which sought a psychological mental health assessment of the plaintiff, the Circuit Court denied all pending motions and dismissed the order of protection. This appeal followed. Finding no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/14/18
Raleigh Commons, Inc. v. SWH, LLC, et al.
W2017-01792-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary L. Wagner

This action, which involves payment of a promissory note, was previously appealed to this Court and subsequently remanded to the trial court due to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact precluding summary judgment. Following remand, the trial court conducted a hearing regarding the disputed issue of the reasonableness of attorney’s fees paid. Determining that the amount of fees paid was reasonable, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Dr. Joseph Weinstein, the note holder and the appellee herein. Dr. Stevan Himmelstein, one of the parties found to be liable on the note, has appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/14/18
Deborah Hart v. Memphis Light, Gas, & Water Division
W2018-00254-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Valerie L. Smith

The parties dispute whether, under Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-15-710, the applicable statute of limitations was tolled by service of process when no proof of service was returned to the court as required under Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-15-902(a). Under the holding in Fair v. Cochran, 418 S.W.3d 542 (Tenn. 2013), we conclude, as did the trial court, that Appellee’s failure to make return to the court did not, ipso facto, constitute a lack of service of process such that the statute of limitations expired. Affirmed and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/13/18
LaFarge North America v. Warren Mills, et al.
W2017-00431-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary L. Wagner

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellee, finding that the guaranty agreement Appellant executed was enforceable. At the time Appellant executed the guaranty, Choctaw II, LLC (“Choctaw”), a company of which Appellant was a member, owed approximately $275,000.00 to Appellee on an open credit line, which was guaranteed by William Carrier, another owner of Choctaw. Mr. Carrier filed bankruptcy, and Appellee closed the open credit line for lack of guaranty. In an effort to continue to purchase materials from Appellee, Appellant signed a guaranty. After Appellant signed the guaranty, Appellee sold an additional $75,000 worth of goods to Choctaw, and Choctaw paid Appellee approximately $79,000 after Appellant signed the guaranty. Appellee applied these payments to the $275,000 balance and then sought payment for the $75,000 in goods from Appellant. The trial court held that Appellee properly applied the payments to the older debt. We hold that the guaranty agreement is enforceable. However, as to the application of the payments, we hold that Appellee was required to apply the $79,000 to the debt guaranteed by Appellant. Because the payments were sufficient to pay off the $75,000 in goods, Appellant owes nothing to Appellee under the guaranty and is entitled to summary judgment. Reversed and remanded for entry of summary judgment in favor of Appellant.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/13/18
Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company v. Memphis Light, Gas, and Water
W2017-02551-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

Plaintiff/Appellant Nationwide appeals the trial court’s grant of Defendant/Appellee’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Defendant’s motion was based on the argument that Plaintiff’s claim was time-barred pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, and that Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119 did not allow Plaintiff to timely add Defendant to the suit. Because we conclude that the trial court incorrectly applied Tennessee’s comparative fault statute, we reverse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/13/18
Johnny McClain, Jr. v. Tennessee Board of Parole, Et Al.
M2018-00205-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This is an appeal from the dismissal of an inmate’s petition for common law writ of certiorari. The Tennessee Board of Parole denied petitioner parole, citing the seriousness of the offense, the substantial risk that petitioner would not conform to the conditions of his release, the adverse effect his release would have on institutional discipline, and his need to complete therapeutic community. Petitioner appealed the Board’s decision by petition for writ of certiorari. The petition was dismissed by the trial court, which found that the petitioner had failed to present any facts that would support a claim that the Board acted illegally, fraudulently, arbitrarily, or in excess of their jurisdiction. This appeal followed. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/11/18
In Re Gaberiel S. Et Al.
M2018-00522-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bratten H. Cook II

A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his four children. The juvenile court found five statutory grounds for termination: (1) abandonment by willful failure to support; (2) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home; (3) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans; (4) persistence of conditions; and (5) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to personally assume custody or financial responsibility of the children. The court also found that termination of the father’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. We affirm.

DeKalb County Court of Appeals 12/11/18
Dwight Mitchell v. State of Tennessee, Department of Health
M2017-02041-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

Plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment action in 2017, seeking to have the chancery court invalidate two final orders entered against him by the Tennessee Department of Health, one entered in 2008, revoking his license to operate a residential home for the aged, and the second entered in 2011, placing him on the Tennessee Abuse Registry. Upon the Department’s motion, the chancellor dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, for failure to timely seek review under the Administrative Procedures Act, and on the basis of res judicata. The plaintiff appeals; on our de novo review, we affirm the dismissal of the petition for failure to comply with the judicial review provisions set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-322.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/11/18
Windell Middleton v. City of Millington, Tennessee
W2018-00338-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant city on the basis of the expiration of the statute of limitations. Specifically, the trial court ruled that plaintiff’s complaint was ineffective to toll the statute of limitations where service of process on the city clerk did not comply with Rule 4.04(8) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and process was not reissued. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/11/18
Mary Reynolds, As Administrator Of The Estate Of Carol Ann Reynolds, v. Gray Medical Investors, LLC., Et Al.
E2017-02403-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

We granted the Tenn. R. App. P. 9 application for interlocutory appeal in this case to consider whether a healthcare provider can use Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-272, (“the peer review statute”), to claim privilege and exclude evidence that an employee was threatened with dismissal or retaliation if the employee refused to change their story or alter documents in order to cover up possible negligent conduct. We find and hold that the peer review privilege contained within Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-272 never was intended to allow a healthcare provider to attempt without fear of adverse consequences to force an employee to commit perjury. We, therefore, reverse the July 31, 2017 order of the Circuit Court for Washington County (“the Trial Court”) excluding the testimony of defendants’ employee pursuant to the peer review privilege contained in Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-272 and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Washington County Court of Appeals 12/11/18
In Re Eleanor Chappell Revocable Living Trust
W2017-02541-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Karen D. Webster

Decedent’s son, Appellant, sought to set aside Decedent’s trust, alleging that Decedent lacked capacity at the time she executed the trust and that Appellees, Decedent’s sister and the sister’s husband, exercised undue influence over Decedent in the execution of the trust. Appellees moved for dismissal arguing that Appellant’s lawsuit was barred by res judicata based on Appellant’s previous suit for conservatorship over Decedent. The trial court held that the elements of res judicata were not met but dismissed Appellant’s lawsuit on its finding that same was barred by the six-year statute of limitations for claims for breach of fiduciary duty under Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-3-109(a)(3). We conclude that the trial court’s conclusion as to res judicata was correct. However, because Appellant’s complaint does not state a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty, the applicable statute of limitations is that set out in Tennessee Code Annotated section 35-15-604(a)(1), and Appellant’s lawsuit was timely filed.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/10/18
In Re Estate of Jimmy D. Harris
W2016-01768-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Karen D. Webster

Wife of the decedent appeals the probate court’s denial of her petition to admit a will to probate. Because we conclude that the testimony presented did not rebut the presumption of due execution created by the will’s attestation clause, we reverse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/10/18
In Re Michayla T. Et Al.
M2018-00367-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge William M. Locke

A mother appeals the termination of parental rights to her two children. After investigating a report of drug exposure, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) obtained emergency temporary custody of the children. After nearly ten months, DCS petitioned to terminate the mother’s parental rights. The juvenile court found by clear and convincing evidence six statutory grounds for termination: abandonment by failure to establish a suitable home, abandonment by an incarcerated parent by willful failure to support, abandonment by wanton disregard, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, persistence of conditions, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody or financial responsibility for the children. The court also found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. We affirm.

Warren County Court of Appeals 12/07/18
Andrea Scott et al. v. Carlton J. Ditto et al.
E2017-01356-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ward Jeffrey Hollingsworth

This is the second appeal of a case in which a parcel of property was sold by the City of Chattanooga at a delinquent tax sale. The property had earlier been sold at a foreclosure sale conducted by the holder of a deed of trust on the property. The successor in interest to the purchaser of the property at the foreclosure sale brought an action against the purchaser at the tax sale and others to quiet title to the property; the tax sale purchaser filed a counterclaim and cross-claim against two of the defendants. The trial court granted summary judgment to the foreclosure sale purchaser based on its determination that she was a bona fide purchaser without notice of the tax sale and that she had recorded her deed first; the court dismissed the cross-claims. The tax sale purchaser appealed and this Court affirmed the dismissal of the cross-claims and reversed the grant of summary judgment to the foreclosure sale purchaser, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she had notice of the tax sale purchaser’s interest in the property prior to her purchase. Upon remand, the case was tried without a jury, and the trial court ruled in favor of the foreclosure sale purchaser, holding that she was a bona fide purchaser of the property without notice of the tax sale purchaser’s claim of ownership. Tax sale purchaser appeals; finding no error, we affirm the judgment.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 12/06/18
Jon Vazeen v. Martin Sir
M2018-00333-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Don R. Ash

Jon Vazeen (plaintiff) filed this action for legal malpractice and fraud against his former attorney, Martin Sir (defendant). Plaintiff alleged that defendant was guilty of “repeated unprofessional behavior” and the “inept and total mishandling” of his divorce case. He also alleged defendant defrauded him by “infusing several thousand dollars of fake items in his invoice” for attorney’s fees. (Underlining in original). The trial court granted defendant summary judgment on the malpractice claim because the complaint was not filed within one year of the accrual of the claim, as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(c)(1)(2017). The court granted summary judgment on the fraud claim on the ground of res judicata. The court held that the fraud claim was barred by the earlier dismissal of plaintiff’s ethics complaint based upon the alleged fraud of the defendant with the Board of Professional Responsibility (the Board). We affirm the summary judgment of the trial court on the legal malpractice claim. We hold that the Board’s decision to dismiss an ethical complaint does not bar plaintiff from bringing a malpractice or fraud claim against an attorney on the ground of res judicata. Summary judgment on the fraud claim is vacated and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/05/18
Stephanie Solima v. David Solima
M2017-01924-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

This appeal involves a post-divorce custody dispute between David Solima (father) and Stephanie Solima (mother) with respect to their only child, A.J.S. Father filed a petition in the trial court seeking a modification of the then-existing permanent parenting plan. Finding that there had been a material change in circumstances, the court entered an order modifying the parenting plan. Father then filed a motion to alter or amend, which the trial court denied. Father now appeals the court’s order denying his motion. We hold that the order appealed from is not a final judgment because the trial court has not fully adjudicated the issue of child support. Accordingly, we dismiss this appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remand for further proceedings.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 12/05/18
Teresa Kocher, et al. v. Laua Bearden, et al.
W2017-02519-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

This is the second appeal in this dispute involving a third party’s attempt to obtain access to a record that was sealed in the trial court pursuant to an agreed order. In the first appeal, this Court explained that judicial records are presumptively open, and the reason for sealing judicial records must be compelling. Because the trial court had not articulated any specific reasons for keeping the record sealed, we remanded for the trial court to reconsider its decision to deny the petitioner access to the record. We said, “If the trial court determines on remand that the record should remain sealed due to a compelling reason, that reason ‘is to be articulated along with findings specific enough that a reviewing court can determine whether the closure order was properly entered.’” Kocher v. Bearden, 546 S.W.3d 78, 87 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017) perm. app. denied (Tenn. Oct. 6, 2017) (quoting In re NHC-Nashville Fire Litig., 293 S.W.3d 547, 560 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008)). Unfortunately, the trial court did not comply with these instructions on remand. After repeatedly expressing disagreement with this Court’s decision, the trial judge refused to modify the seal on the record, citing only “confidential information pertaining to the minor plaintiff.” Because both the trial court and the appellees have failed to articulate any compelling reason for maintaining the seal to the exclusion of the petitioner, we reverse the order of the trial court and remand for reassignment to a different trial judge and the entry of an order allowing the petitioner to access the sealed record.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/05/18
In Re R. L. Et Al.
M2017-02404-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charled D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

In this dependency and neglect case, the juvenile court adjudicated father’s (E.L.) six children dependent and neglected and one of the female children (R.L.) a victim of severe abuse perpetrated by father. Father appealed to the circuit court. After a de novo hearing, the circuit court entered an order holding that clear and convincing evidence exists to demonstrate that R.L. was sexually abused by father and as such was a dependent and neglected and severely abused child. The court similarly found clear and convincing evidence that father’s additional children were also dependent and neglected. Father appeals. We affirm. 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 12/04/18